Arts & Entertainment
6 min

Film reviews: Inside Out

Big hits & near misses

DAMN CUTE. Like a Virgin

Like a Virgin

Inside Out’s opening gala Like a Virgin is so damn cute that it will even have the hardest of hearts tittering like a schoolgirl.

Traditional Korean wrestling, transsexuality and Madonna-worship collide when sissy teen boy Oh Dong-gu (Ryu Deok-Hwan) decides to compete in the age-old sport of Ssireum.

Looking for a way to pay for his sex change operation, he joins the team with an eye on the cash prize at a big competition. But Dong-gu is far from welcomed by team captain Park Jun-Wu (played by the ridiculously hot Lee Eon). In addition, Dong-gu must win over the other ragtag teammates and keep his unemployed father from going nutso.

Young actor Ryu Deok-Hwan (who apparantly gained 20 kilos for the role) portrays Dong-gu with the perfect amount of humour and empathy. It’s refreshing to see an attractive, chubby male as a lead in a gay movie. Ryu is expressive, sympathetic and has excellent comic timing — not to mention killer dance moves. The scenes where he plays out his fantasies with his teacher are particularly hysterical.

But directors Lee Hae-yeong and Lee Hae-jun balance comedy with dark subjects. Dong-gu’s father is an abusive alcoholic and has trouble dealing with his son’s transsexuality. The comic moments come as a breath of relief to the real and difficult drama underneath and allows the film to comment on South Korea’s macho culture.

Like a Virgin shows that sissies can be strong, athletic and worthy of respect. While the plot is somewhat predictable and the humour starts to wane near the end, you’re just so charmed and invested in the story that you can’t help but get caught up in it all. I’m sure even Madge herself would approve of such a delightful, coming-of-age celebration.

The Like A Virgin gala is at 8pm on Thu, May 15 at the Varsity.

The Secrets

Badass schoolgirls — Jewish Orthodox-style! The Secrets is a sexy, riveting drama about two young women in a seminary whose taboo relationship is contrasted with their devotion to heal an older woman.

After the death of her mother, studious Naomi (Ania Bukstein) convinces her rabbi father to allow her to go to Safed to study in a seminary for women. Unhappily engaged to be married to the most repressive man ever, she eventually meets the gorgeous Michelle (Michal Stamler), fresh off the plane from France, cigarette in hand and full of rebellion. You know where this is going.

The unlikely pair get closer when they help a mysterious older French woman, Anouk (played by the indelible Fanny Ardent of 8 Femmes). Once imprisoned for murder, Anouk asks the girls to help her repent spiritually. Defying traditional law that states only men can administer rituals for atonement, the young girls surreptitiously perform the series of “Tikuns,” uncovering disturbing things about Anouk’s past. At the same time, they discover hot, unsettling passions of their own.

Avi Nesher’s suspenseful film unfolds beautifully. The growing friendship is totally captivating and their rebellious adventures are exciting. There is a powerful feminist undertone to the story, particularly seen when one of Naomi’s teachers confides her dreams of one day seeing a female rabbi.

But this is Orthodox culture after all, and the ending for the two women is murky at best. Naomi and Michelle’s happiness in the final scene still alludes to the repression that women face in Orthodox society.

Secrets is a broad category for all things hidden in the film: lesbianism, murder, feminism, even SM. It’s tense storytelling and great actresses that really make the film a lush, unforgettable treat.

The Secrets screens at 9:45pm on Sun, May 18 at the ROM.

The Beirut Apartment

Daniele Salaris’s 50-minute documentary is a fascinating window on to Lebanese queer culture. Interviews with six different people, each with a distinct perspective (some Muslim, some Christian), reveal the delicate balancing act of politics, religion and sexuality in the historically turbulent country.

Lebanon’s infamous Article 534 is still used to harass and oppress gay men and lesbians, so a collective of Italian filmmakers invited their subjects into an apartment in Beirut where they were free to talk of their experiences.

Youssef is a young gay man whose coming out did not bode well with his conservative family: They kicked him out and then kidnapped him in an attempt to keep him home and heterosexual.

Maha is a young woman who grew up with the war in Beirut and talks of the societal pressure for family: “If you don’t have kids and you’ve achieved amazing stuff in your life, you’re life is worthless. You need to have kids.”

Faisal speaks of the hardships facing a Palestinian living in Beirut. He rejected his strict Muslim upbringing to lead a more openly gay life. “When I look at the gay society here in the Arab world, I see that gays are suffering a lot.”

Rashid, a hard-line supporter of Hezbollah, has come to grips with being in the closet about his sexuality. “It’s not my fault. Allah created me like this.”

In Lebanon, a dual life is the name of the game and the support and outlets for queers remain limited. While Beriut does boast the Helem Centre, which has a queer outreach program, many queer folk still seek counselling and treatment from the American University of Beirut Medical Centre, an institute that still employs “corrective therapy” and encourages living a double life as a way of coping for conflicted individuals.

Beirut Apartment is a straightforward and engaging documentary. Combining footage of bombed districts from the 2006 war alongside pedestrians shopping and relaxing on the beach, the film sharply highlights the complexities of a country rebuilding itself both physically and socially.

The Beirut Apartment screens at 3pm on Mon, May 19 at Isabel Bader.

Newcastle

Bodacious? Gnarly? Totally tubular? Unfortunately, none of the above for the surfer teen flick Newcastle. Total bummer, dude.

While the Aussie feature does boast some of the most stunning and sumptuous water cinematography to date — not to mention a record-breaking amount of screen time devoted to shirtless teen boys — Newcastle fails to deliver on most of its other points.

Young Jesse (the gorgeous Lachlan Buchanan) becomes deeply frustrated when he doesn’t place for the regional surfing competitions. Meanwhile his buddy Andy (Kirk Jenkins) makes the cut effortlessly. Jesse’s jealousy is only compounded when his younger brother Fergus (Xavier Samuel), a non-surfer alt rocker, develops a crush on Andy and starts to tag along. When the three join a group of boys and girls for a raucous weekend on the beach things take a turn for the worse.

The story takes long and numerous breaks to show off some of its unbelievable surfing camera work. But the fun in the sun quickly becomes tiring and pulls you away from the boys’ drama.

There’s confusion over whether this is a movie about surfing, sibling rivalry, teen romance or worki ng-class slice of life. The movie fails to balance its different storylines and the shifting between competition scenes and the boys’ fighting becomes clumsy and uneven. When in doubt, writer/director Dan Castle seems to have just thrown in some wicked surfing scenes.

When the brothers finally do make up it’s by stripping themselves down and having an elongated skinny dipping sequence. (Sigh. If only life were that easy… or that hot.)

But it’s hard to invest in the two-dimensional characters and the family reconciliation along with the big competition lack emotional intensity. Furthermore, Fergus and Andy’s relationship never gets the onscreen time they deserve.

While still a fun, eye-catching movie, Newcastle needs to spend more time on its characters and not so much on riding the waves.

Newcastle is Inside Out’s Centrepiece Gala. The international premiere with Castle in attendance is 9:45pm on Tue, May 20 at Isabel Bader.
Mike Vokins

Hogtown Homos

Among Inside Out’s many strong shorts programs this year is perennial fave Hogtown Homos, the annual showcase of local filmmakers.

There are some incredibly beautiful works on offer beginning with one five-minute piece of genius, Life #2, by Dennis Day. This deceptively simple video animation shows life as a digital palimpsest brimming with treacherous binaries: the distance between zero and one, “far and far enough,” positive and negative. Enigmatic, haunting. Another disturbing piece is the 15-minute drama from Cassandra Nicoloau, Congratulations Daisy Graham. An older woman (Barbara Gordon) is haunted by both memories of first love and present-day illness. Will she again make the choice for life now that life is so hard? Beautiful direction and writing and strong performances make for a devastating short.

Sticking with the love-and-death theme, but on an altogether different, hilarious, plane is Lesley Loksi Chan’s joyfully macabre Compost Mon Amour, a 12-minute video that combines stop-motion animation, live action and Margaret Chan’s off-the-wall, sardonic narration to somehow make mould romantic.

Robert Kennedy, RM Vaughan, Gloria Kim, bee sack, Rachel Matlow, Leif Harmsen, Kathleen Mullen, Kent Monkman, Gisèle Gordon, Maxime Desmons and Andrew Hull keep the laughs, thoughts and passions coming.

Hogtown Homos screens Wed, May 21 at 7:15pm at Isabel Bader.
Gordon Bowness